Will wonders never cease: Specially trained dogs alert their diabetic owners if their blood sugar is too low
05/11/2019 // Edsel Cook // Views

A "diabetes alert dog" is a special type of service dog that is trained to detect the symptoms of hypoglycemia in their owners who suffer from Type 1 diabetes. U.K. researchers reported that the animals are much more accurate at sensing the symptoms of abnormally low or high blood sugar than current diabetes detectors.

In their analysis of more than 4,000 hypoglycemic and hyperglycemic episodes, researchers from the University of Bristol discovered that diabetes alert dogs warned their diabetic owners of 83 percent of low blood sugar attacks. Study author Nicola Rooney explained that the team's findings lends support to the widely known effectiveness of medical detection dogs, specifically those that can detect hypoglycemia.

A diabetes alert dog starts out by undergoing the training process for a service dog. Once they pass the initial training, the dog is then taught by both the service dog training facility and its new owner.

Diabetes alert training involves the dog owner placing cotton balls in his or her mouth during hyperglycemic or hypoglycemic episodes. The cotton absorbs the saliva, which contains unbalanced levels of glucose and insulin, and is exposed to the dogs.

A fully trained dog would know what to do if it detected certain blood sugar levels. It would bump its owner with its nose, plunk its paw on a knee, or do other things to get its owner's attention. (Related: Veld grape extract can attenuate symptoms of metabolic syndrome.)

In avoiding high blood sugar levels, Type 1 diabetes patients are at risk of low blood sugar events

Hypoglycemia is a state wherein the amount of sugar in the blood becomes abnormally low. It often plagues patients with Type 1 diabetes, such as the people who strictly regulate their blood sugar levels.


A Type 1 diabetes patient needs to keep his or her blood sugar levels at just slightly above the "low" mark. Maintaining blood glucose at that level will prevent high blood sugar events (hyperglycemia) that could cause brain disorders, eye disorders, and other complications associated with diabetes.

However, it also makes the patient more likely to suffer problems associated with low blood sugar. In order to alleviate these problems, he or she needs to take carbohydrates that are easily absorbed and broken down by the body. The influx of carbs will raise blood sugar to healthier levels.

Furthermore, some Type 1 diabetes patients also display "hypoglycemia unawareness." They do not experience the cravings, daze, headaches, irritability, lightheaded feeling, shakiness, or other warning signs of low blood sugar. Understandably, these patients are much more vulnerable to severe hypoglycemia. Their blood sugar levels might crash so hard that a patient could undergo a seizure, enter a coma, or even die.

Diabetes alert dogs can detect the signs of hypoglycemia earlier than electronic devices

There are medical devices that constantly keep track of blood sugar levels. Older glucose meters have been superseded by faster and more accurate continuous glucose monitors (GCMs). However, GCMs measure the glucose in interstitial fluid instead of the blood. Their readings are still several minutes behind the actual levels in the blood.

In comparison, a diabetes alert dog can detect the onset of hypoglycemia minutes earlier than a GCM. If its owner got immobilized by a severe case of hypoglycemia, the dog could get the attention of other people, who could assist the victim.

Patients with Type 1 diabetes who need a diabetes alert dog must file an application with an organization that trains service dogs. These medical detection dogs are not cheap – they can cost up to $20,000. The best breeds for the job are golden and Labrador retrievers because of their attachment and focus on humans.

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